On June 18th, Pope Francis gave an unprecedented encyclical.
In the modern Catholic Church, the Pope can send a letter concerning Catholic doctrine to his bishops, patriarchs, primates, and archbishops to influence the faithful on decisions determining matters of faith or discipline.
For years many faith-based religious communities have opposed the idea that humans are responsible for environmental damage causing climate change and that even the idea of climate change is not real. Pope Francis stated that it is real. It is caused by humans. And he stresses that everyone has a moral duty to work towards correcting the effects of climate change in order to avert a worldwide disaster.
He labels us a “Culture of Waste” and places emphasis on our throw away consumerist economies. He states the need for an economic model which is not a function of capital and production, but which works for the common good. Our future must be “faced with solidarity and broad vision” and a “social and generational pact” that pools our resources in a collective effort for positive outcome.
Pope Francis threw the full weight of Catholic teaching, and his considerable moral standing, behind the fight for our environment, making the Catholic Church a major player in one of the most important and contentious debates of our times.
The following excerpts are from a variety of religious and non religious news sources:
- “The Earth, our home, increasingly seems to be transforming itself into an immense garbage dump.” (Reuters)
- “Never have we mistreated and offended our common home as we have in the last two centuries.” (ThinkProgress)
- “Unfortunately, if we scan the regions of our planet, we immediately see that humanity has disappointed God’s expectations.” (ThinkProgress)
- “If the current trend continues, this century could see unheard-of climate change and an unprecedented destruction of ecosystems, with grave consequences for all of us.” (Reuters)
- “Humanity is called to consciousness of the need for changes in styles of life, of production and consumption, to combat this warming, or, at least, the human causes that produce and exacerbate it.” (Crux)
- “We grew up thinking we were the earth’s owners and dominators, authorized to pillage it. Violence in the human heart wounded by sin shows itself also in the symptoms of disease that we see in the soil, the water, the air, and living creatures.” (Crux)
- The reduction of greenhouse gases requires honesty, courage and responsibility, especially by the most powerful and the most polluting countries.” (The New York Times)
- “There is in fact a true ‘ecological debt,’ overall between the North and the South, connected to commercial imbalances with consequences in the ecological sphere, surely like the disproportionate use of natural resources historically done by some countries.” (National Catholic Reporter)
- “We know that it is impossible to sustain the current level of consumption in the more developed countries and the wealthiest parts of society, where the habit of waste and of throwing things away is reaching unprecedented levels.” (ThinkProgress)
- “An economic and technological development that does not leave the world a better place and with an integral superior quality of life cannot be considered progress.” (The New York Times)
- “Because of us, thousands of species can no longer give glory to God with their existence, nor can they communicate to us their message.” (National Catholic Reporter)
- People strongly refute the idea of a Creator on political or intellectual grounds, however, science and religion, which offer different approaches to reality, can enter into an intense and productive dialogue with each other.” (ThinkProgress)
Ah! Science And Religion in a conversation with each other!
Science And Religion both entail the relationship between man and creation of the world around us. They also concern humans relating to each other. Dominion over the earth became a human misstep that developed into a fast moving world economy deeply rooted in more is better and lacking in ethics. If God gave us the task of protecting the earth, then we misunderstood this task!
Our cultural divisions make us insensitive to waste. One example: throwing out excess foodstuffs is especially condemnable when people suffer from hunger and malnutrition in every part of the world. There was a time when our grandparents were very careful not to throw away leftover food. Consumerism has accustomed us to excess. Our daily waste of food goes far beyond financial parameters making us unable to judge its value correctly.
In a “Culture of Waste”, Pope Francis argues that natural ecosystems manage to create closed loops of nutrients and energy, while human systems have not yet succeeded in adopting a circular pattern of production which ensures resources for current and future generations.
The encyclical also pays particular attention to the role of toxins and their risk for human health, the environment and climate change. In both cases, the Pope highlights how our most vulnerable communities tend to be affected the worst by environmental problems so he stresses that we also have a social justice problem.
His letter states that the pollution produced by residue of dangerous waste must be accounted for. Each year hundreds of millions of tons of waste are generated, much of it non-biodegradable, highly toxic and radioactive, from homes and businesses, from construction and demolition sites, from clinical, electronic and industrial sources. The earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth. Industrial waste and chemical products utilized in cities and agricultural areas can lead to bioaccumulation in the organisms of the local population, even when levels of toxins in those places are low like when pollutants concentrate from water into fish or plastics end up in the digestive system of birds. Frequently no measures are taken until after the contamination has irreversibly affected the system.
These problems are closely linked to our throwaway culture. Natural ecosystems serve as a desirable model: plants synthesize nutrients which feed herbivores; these in turn become food for carnivores, which produce significant quantities of organic waste which give rise to new generations of plants. But our industrial system, at the end of its cycle of production and consumption, has not developed the capacity to absorb and reuse waste and by-products. We do not adopt a circular model of production capable of preserving resources for present and future generations. Pope Francis calls our attention to the fact that non-renewable resources need limits on their use, moderating their consumption, maximizing their efficiency, repurposing and recycling them. A serious consideration of this issue would be one way of counteracting the throwaway culture which affects our entire planet.
“The time to find global solutions is running out”. “There is a clear, definitive and urgent ethical imperative to act”.
This Papal encyclical teaches us the importance of collectively nourishing the planet and ourselves. Science teaches us to use our intelligence and analytical observations to understand the planet and ourselves. Both can teach us to reach into our higher selves and succeed in the task we were given.